Hadensville, Va.

Despite my general agreement with Katha Pollitt’s observations about the futility of atheist “conversions” [“Subject to Debate,” Dec. 3], I am always troubled by believers presuming us atheists to be evangelists for our lack of belief. There have certainly been those who have proselytized for the atheist “movement,” but I really cannot be bothered to concern myself with what anyone else may or may not believe.

The only thing that a committed atheist should be prepared to resist is any attempt to infuse faith-based nonsense into our governments. Each of us has a fundamental right to secular, not atheistic, governments. There is a big difference. Our governments are not permitted to take religious “sides” or positions under our Constitution. That is the promise not only of the First Amendment but also Article VI. That is so each of us will be treated fairly by the government, not to “disprove” the existence of that which cannot be disproved. (That would take a very flimsy deity, indeed!)

I almost always admit that I cannot disprove the existence of any deity. Why should I care? It is really none of my business what anyone else chooses to believe. Or not. That is what real freedom is about. It is my business to preserve that freedom, and I do so by insisting that my governments be secular and that people are not hurt or harassed in the name of religion.



Austin, Tex.

Re Lakshmi Chaudhry’s “Will the Real Generation Obama Please Stand Up?” [Dec. 3]: The biggest challenge for ambitious Generation X-ers and Senator Obama is that baby boomers won’t take senior status. People are living longer and playing longer in politics, business and all leadership arenas. The kids have outgrown the kiddie table and are claiming their rightful place at the big table. Unfortunately, the boomers are not ready to make room.

We have the same maturity, experience and qualifications to lead at 46, Senator Obama’s age, as boomers did at 46, Bill Clinton’s age when elected President. Boomers are going to keep booming and will cling to the reins as long as they can. Alzheimer’s may be Gen X’s best hope!


Santa Fe

Using the demographic range assigned to the baby boom of 1946-64, Obama is very much a baby boomer himself–notwithstanding pretensions to play the Gen X (and MillGen) cards. Other assignations of Gen X-dom to pundits, bloggers, etc. born in the 1946-64 period reveal a curious boomer bigotry–with boomers (albeit late arrivals) seeking to pass as constituents of the younger group. Ultimately, Obama and any other candidate viewing the electorate sensibly will be paying court to the biggest group out there, that big demographic bulge snaking through its 50s, 60s and soon 70s, all the while remaining every bit as (perhaps more?) viable as ever.




One word lacking from “Triumph of the Wills,” Daniel Brook’s review of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms [Dec. 3], is “Lamarckian,” as in “the inheritance of acquired characteristics.” Although that wasn’t the only idea Lamarck contributed to the debate about natural selection/evolution, it’s the one we all associate with him, because it was wrong.

“Patience, delayed gratification, the ability to work hard, ingenuity, innovativeness and education”: these are all acquired during one’s lifetime and are not transmissible to one’s offspring. Clark’s thesis sounds ludicrous.



S. Yarmouth, Mass.

Brian Morton, in “Roscoe Mitchell’s Wolf Tones” [Dec. 3], has it all wrong about wolf tones. I’ve been involved in teaching instruments to young students for more than fifty years–oboe, flute, clarinet, sax, trumpet, French horn (I’ve also played jazz for more than sixty years)–and the wolf tone has never been a factor in any of them if they were reasonably well made. Wolf tones are limited almost exclusively to bowed strings. The alto sax is the easiest instrument for a beginner, and my students had decent sounds within six or eight weeks if they practiced. To write that the “saxophone has nothing but” wolf tones shows a complete lack of knowledge about the acoustics of musical instruments.

As for Morton’s critique of Mitchell’s music, it doesn’t sound to me that it is jazz at all but rather jazz-influenced the same way folk music influenced Brahms, Dvorák and Bartók. Mitchell may be quite creative, but as Duke Ellington once said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”




Paul Nossiter’s response to my article on Roscoe Mitchell is right and misses the point. He is strictly correct in saying that wolf tones are associated with the string instruments. The point I was trying to make–stretched, I admit–is that the saxophone is unusually “dead” as an instrument until invested with the unique personality of the player. It is also an instrument that has to be wrestled into conformity in a way that most of the canonical instruments Nossiter teaches do not.

I have played alto and soprano saxophones–both excellent instruments–for thirty-five years and have no difficulty indicating the places where intonation requires adjustments. I should perhaps have cited the authority of British virtuoso John Harle, still best known for his solo part in Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s “Panic at the London Proms,” in describing the saxophone as an intractable beast; he also used the “wolf note” analogy.

I rather suspect that Nossiter’s strictures are aimed as much at Mitchell as at my musicological vagaries. Mitchell is, as I was at pains to explain, a player and composer who sits somewhat apart from the mainstream of jazz, swing and bebop but who manages to combine a high level of abstraction and complexity with a pungent and, yes, swinging approach to the vernacular, particularly the blues. Those published “authorities” who suggest Mitchell has no foundation in blues form tend to be, not surprisingly, those who argue that Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were not bluesmen either.

I congratulate Nossiter on his success with his students. Progress in six to eight weeks? Approximately every six to eight weeks I vow to retire, or to take up contrabass sarrusophone or ukulele or some other instrument for which the role models are not so fearsomely accomplished. Geography probably dictates that we will never have a chance to jam, but if circumstance permits…



Due to an editing error two titles were rendered incorrectly in Christopher Hayes’s “Ron Paul’s Roots” [Dec. 24]. Brink Lindsey is vice president for research at the Cato Institute, and Justin Raimondo is editorial director of